Sugarloaf Island_Cape Mendocino – photo copyright Paul ElliotSugarloaf Island_Cape Mendocino – photo copyright Paul Elliot
South Cape Mendocino State Marine Reserve is a nine square mile MPA off shore from the town of Petrolia, in the Lost Coast of Northern California. Unique, steep, and rugged terrain characterizes the shoreline, which extends into the King Range, a protected range of mountains that run parallel to the coast. The waters in this MPA are crucial breeding grounds for a number of marine mammals and seabirds.
- South Cape Mendocino SMR is located in what is known as the Lost Coast of California. This region stretches over about seventy miles and is considered to be the largest stretch of undeveloped coastline in California.
- The Lost Coast has remained vastly undeveloped because of its steep and rugged terrain that extends right up to the coast. Because of this, this is one of the few stretches of coastline where there is no highway that runs along or near the water.
- The first California oil well was drilled manually in 1961, in Mattole Valley, just outside of Petrolia – hence the town’s name.
- South Cape Mendocino SMR is the westernmost point in California.
- See and walk on this area’s black sand beaches. A rare feature for California, the black sand’s color is a result of offshore tectonic rock and greywacke, a dark sandstone.
- View the characteristic sea stacks—Sugarloaf Island and Steamboat Rock. These can also be great places to go bird watching and perhaps catch a glimpse of some of the sea birds in this area such as cormorants, black oystercatchers, and tufted puffins.
- Take a challenging cycling trip. Bicycle enthusiasts enjoy taking a trip to Cape Mendocino because of a stretch of roadway with a very steep grade (around 20%) known as “The Wall.” This is a part of the “Tour of the Unknown Coast”—the full tour is 100 miles of scenic California scenery with 9,400 feet of elevation change and is considered one of the most difficult bicycle routes in the world. “The Wall” is one of the more challenging stretches in this tour.
Go tidepooling! Since this MPA occurs along the coast, which has a stretch of road adjacent to it, it is a great chance to take a closer look at the area’s marine life and take in the picturesque views.